The Father, the Son and Norman Mailer: A New Biography Reassesses America’s Most Loved and Hated Writer
Norman Mailer’s writing was about dualities and disappointments. God and the Devil were engaged in an epic battle, and, no matter which side won, life was still excrement and death, “a bath in shit with no reward.” That last bit comes from his 1972 review of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, published in Mind of an Outlaw, a recent compendium of many of Mailer’s uncollected or out-of-print essays. The book culls together a lot of minor work, the Bertolucci review included, with a few of Mailer’s greatest hits mixed in. Still, Bad Mailer is better than a lot of other writing produced in the 65 years since he set in motion post-World War II fiction with the first line of The Naked and the Dead: “Nobody could sleep.”
As an example, Mailer most clearly outlined his philosophy, which remained consistent even as his styles and topics changed with each book, in an otherwise forgettable profile of Jimmy Carter from 1976, reprinted in Mind of an Outlaw: “Mailer,” he writes, referring to himself in his preferred third person, “had a notion of God as not clearly omnipotent but rather as a powerful God at war with other opposed visions of the universe.” As with God, so too Mailer. The first complete biography of Mailer, by J. Michael Lennon, the author’s longtime friend and archivist, suggests even with its title, A Double Life, that for all of Mailer’s concerns with the universe at large, more interesting was that good and evil were continuously waging war over his own soul.